WATER VOLATILITY – IT’S A GLOBAL PROBLEM
Water volatility is a world-wide phenomenon. Increasing pressure on water resources from population growth, increased competition for use, and increasingly fickle natural water delivery systems means that we must get better at understanding our place in the water cycle, and adapting to changing conditions. While there will be supply-side augmentation of our existing supplies, the fiscal costs and timeframes associated with their development, and the often intractable locational, environmental costs and permitting requirements will limit their effectiveness. Similarly, our engineered systems of reservoirs and transportation mechanisms often work only within a limited range of environmental conditions – and those conditions are changing.
“Together, increased demand and lower supply will place a premium on the industry to find new and more efficient ways of allocating, treating and using water.”1
THE CURRENT GLOBAL CONDITIONS
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) has lead the implementation of the National Integrated Drought Information System (NIDIS) which aims to provide data-driven analyses of current drought conditions throughout the world. The current NIDIS assessment of world-wide conditions3 include:
- Europe: Conditions around the Western Mediterranean have improved while Eastern Europe and Great Britain have experienced an expansion of drought.
- Asia: Drought continues to be focused in the eastern and especially southeastern parts of the
- India: The extreme heat wave which has killed over 1,800 people has also led to water shortages.
- Africa: Drought remains in both the equatorial region and the South. Southern Africa continues to experience drought which could results in food shortages in coming months.
- North America: Record rains eliminated drought in the Southern Plains of the US. Drought in the
continent is limited to the Western U.S. and areas of the Canadian Prairies, the Great Lakes, and
New England. In Puerto Rico, water rationing has begun in a number of cities due to low stream
flow and reservoir levels.
- South America: Drought remains entrenched in Brazil and the Southern Andes and has expanded near the equator.
- Australia: Drought conditions continue to plague the continent. By the middle of May, drought was affecting 80% of Queensland, a record for that state.
Locally, in California, the state has moved to an emergency response to deal with immediate supply issues. In Texas, while much of the eastern half of the state has been subjected to record rain, west Texas reservoirs remain at less than 60% capacity and some communities in these areas are advancing
“direct-to-potable” reuse projects to purify water recovered from wastewater for drinking water purposes.
There are however, those areas that we do not hear of often that are also in emergency conditions:
In April 2015, Taiwan introduced water rationing in some major cities as the lowest rainfall in nearly 70 years has resulted in significant water stress – cutting water supplies to around 800,000 households and businesses in the city of Taoyuan as well as parts of Hsinchu County and New Taipei City in northern Taiwan for two days a week for an indefinite period.4
São Paulo, Brazil
As with Texas, São Paulo recorded heavy rains early in the year with rainfall averaging 36% above the historical average and February 2015 being the wettest month in the region since 1995. Despite the rains, reservoirs remain at critical levels. In March, the region’s Cantareira system of reservoirs – which normally supply nearly half of the area’s 20 million residents – had recovered to only 12.9% capacity (up from 5%).5
Long term forecasting from Brazil’s disaster-monitoring center projects that Cantareirawill enter the dry winter season at a level of approximately 25% capacity, down from 31% last year.
North Korea’s state news agency reported that the country is facing its “worst drought in a century” with more than 30% of its rice paddies drying up.6 In a country that has suffered significant food shortages in the very recent past, the severe drought impacting the agricultural capacity of the country could have severe consequences.
India is currently experiencing an extreme heat wave across a large area, which is stressing both the population and the water supplies. Thousands of water tankers have delivered supplies to more than 4,000 villages and hamlets facing acute water shortage in the central state of Maharashtra, while the heat and drought impacted crops and wildlife.
A more active typhoon season in the pacific is expected to disrupt the normal monsoon season which may result in prolonged drought conditions.7
India’s groundwater supplies have also recently been under tremendous stress as detected in data provided by NASA’s GRACE satellite. Researchers concluded that withdrawals for irrigation and other uses, as measured in “equivalent height of water” were depleting the groundwater reserves of Rajasthan, Punjab and Haryana at a rate of 4.0±1.0 centimeters per year, or an equivalent volume of 17.7±4.5 cubic kilometers per year.8
Australia suffered through their “millennial drought” from 2000 to 2010 which resulted in significant investment in desalination and water re-use projects. While that drought was broken by record rainfall, the cyclic nature of the forces generating drought, combined with the impacts of climate change make Australia particularly prone to reduced rainfall. The country’s Bureau of Meteorology’s outlook suggests that the winter season will be drier than normal for the east coast.9
The World Economic Forum publishes annual reports detailing risks associated with the stability of the world’s economic engines. In 2015, for the first time, the impacts of water scarcity claimed the top spot:
“Global water requirements are projected to be pushed beyond sustainable water supplies by 40% by 2030. Agriculture already accounts for on average 70% of total water consumption and, according to the World Bank, food production will need to increase by 50% by 2030 as the population grows and dietary habits change. The International Energy Agency further projects water consumption to meet the needs of energy generation and production to increase by 85% by 2035.”10
Notwithstanding the global perspective on water volatility and scarcity, the fact that water is a massive commodity, and that there are competing priorities means that the solution to water issues is always driven by local requirements and decisions. While the impacts can be seen globally, it is the actions of individuals, municipal water providers and regional authorities that determine our sustainability with respect to water.
Highly configurable, quickly deployed Smart Grid demand-side management tools like FATHOM are a rapid, flexible and effective means reducing pressure on water resources and preserving revenue – allowing local decisions to be made by individual utilities. In a time where wild variations in natural delivery systems and financial conditions are a constant threat, such tools are powerful assets in our arsenal. These systems can be deployed quickly, reliably and result in an almost instantaneous demand reduction and the corollary benefit of incremental revenue. Contrast that to the decades required to permit and construct new water supplies, or water transfer schemes.
“It is a choice about the path of water development after a basic built water infrastructure has been provided. Should we try to supply more and more water, or is it time to shift our focus from new physical supply to reassessing how fixed supplies of water can be better used to meet ongoing water-related needs? Should water managers stick with the kinds of projects and techniques they know and continue to fail to meet the water-related needs of some people and many ecosystems? Or is it time to emphasize new approaches that seem more likely to meet these needs?”11 -P.Gleick
1M. Cave, “Independent Review of Competition and Innovation in Water Markets: Final Report”, DEFRA, April 2009
5Drought in São Paulo, April 9th 2015, The Economist (http://www.economist.com/blogs/graphicdetail/2015/03/sao-paulodrought)
10Global Risks 2015 Report,World Economic Forum (http://reports.weforum.org/global-risks-2015/)
11G. Wolff and P.H. Gleick, “The Soft Path for Water”, The World’s Water 2002-2003, Pacific Institute